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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Intellectual Freedom

Intellectual Freedom.

Liberty may be said to consist in the assertion of individuality. So strongly toes the natural instinct prompt to such assertion, that the wonder ought to be—not how any ever dared to be free, but how any ever dared to infringe upon freedom. So complete, however, is the subjection to which the minds of some have been reduced, so entirely has an artificial fear cast out their natural love and reliance, that we find the very idea of bringing reason to War upon matters which they are accustomed to regard as having been once or all determined by authority, evoking manifestations of a terror that to us must appear simply ludicrous.

Here is an instance of what I mean, sufficiently typical, it seems to me, to be quoted in illustration. I was riding with a companion in the Australian mush when an aged crone, miserable product of a life of crime and drink, and epic of the old penal system of the colony, with many a pious ejaculation besought alms of us. Being passed unheeded, she suddenly changed her blessings into the most horrible curses. Upon this my companion, whose nationality and religion I shall not specify, hastily turned back and thrust money into her hand. I remonstrated against the immorality of charity so bestowed; but he assured me that there is a special validity attached to an old woman's curse, which makes it most dangerous to be incurred. Looking it him, with wonder, to see if he was in earnest, I found him not only page 281 perfectly serious but pale with fright, and really angry at an incredulity which he professed himself utterly unable to comprehend. So I said by way of exculpation, "I see how it is. You believe in the devil: I prefer believing in God." He seemed for a while to be thinking over this, for after some time he remarked, "Ah! but we are told, you know, that the devil is very strong."

Riding on, we came to a spot where a party of aboriginies were holding a "corrobbory," or native dance, of a kind far more vigorous than elegant. Whether it was out of pure liveliness of heart, or in pursuance of a time honoured custom, or as an act of devotion that they danced thus, I was iguorant. My companion, however, declared it to be the latter, and straightway proceeded to denounce the Government of the colony for suffering devil-worship (for such he believed it) to be practised within its limits. And his indignation towards the poor dancing savages was not mitigated one whit, even when I offered on their behalf the obvious apology that, perhaps they, too, had been "told that the devil is very strong."

There must have been something "very strong" in the motives originally brought to bear upon men to induce them to abandon their liberty of thought and action, and to submit to rules which are arbitrary, and unverifiable by any acts in their own consciousness; and all upon the strength of what they were "told." I say originally, because, when submission became a habit, its maintenance was comparatively easy. We have here a problem of which we must attempt a solution before we can at all comprehend the significance of the intellectual activity of our own time.—Maitland.